Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

When to listen to inconvenient criticism

Dec 28, 2012 GMT

Whenever users complain, the members of a free software project have a time-honored fallback. Happy users, they say, rarely bother to comment. Mostly, only the discontented are moved to voice an opinion.However, like all pieces of popular wisdom, this one deserves to be questioned. Is the idea that feedback consists mostly of complaints true, or a rationalization seized upon by those who -- very humanly -- prefer to dismiss criticism of their hard efforts? If so, how do you know when to overlook criticism, and when to take it seriously? And what are the comments of ignoring inconvenient criticism?The temptation is always for project leaders to ignore criticism. For example, when Mark...
The triumph of convenience

Dec 21, 2012 GMT

A few years ago, my neighbors asked for help securing their computer. They were running Windows, so my knowledge was limited, but I did set up a separate administrative account and add passwords to their regular accounts. When I looked at their computer a month later, they had removed both -- and were back to getting viruses and malware along with their movie downloads. Their explanation? That my simple safeguards were "too inconvenient.""Let me get this straight," I wanted to say (but didn't). "It's too inconvenient to spend ten seconds typing a password, or twenty logging into a different account to install software. But it's not too inconvenient to have your...
When cults of personality clash

Dec 11, 2012 GMT

A few weeks ago, Aaron Seigo wrote about the harmful effects that cults of personality have on the free software community. I responded by talking about how writers like me encourage this form of hero-worship. But what, you wonder, could possibly be worse than a cult of personality?In the last few days, one answer that has emerged is two cults of personality in conflict, distracting the community from important discussions.I'm referring to Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman's condemnation of Ubuntu's new practice of including results from Amazon and other retailers in Unity's dash search, and Ubuntu Community Manager Jono Bacon's responses.Stallman, as you may have...
Patterns in Linux Journal's Readers' Choice Awards

Dec 06, 2012 GMT

One of the frustrations of writing about the free desktop is the lack of information about the distributions and apps that people are using. That's why, when the latest issue of the online Linux Journal came out, I immediately turned to the results of its Reader's Choice Awards in the hopes of observing the latest trends (despite writing on a competing magazine's site)Of course, like all such surveys and questionnaires, Linux Journal's Reader's Choice Awards are an imperfect indication of what's happening. Linux Journal's audience probably consists of moderately experienced users, so the results are unlikely to indicate what recent immigrants from Windows are using, or the preferences of...
Why I Prefer KDE

Nov 27, 2012 GMT

Fifteen years ago today, KDE began -- and I, for one, am glad that it did. I run virtualized versions of all the major desktop environments, and have a few more on secondary machines. Sometimes, too, I'll log into a desktop like Mate, Xfce, or LXDE just for a change of pace or to keep myself in touch. Yet, on my main workstation, I always return sooner or later to KDE. Of all my available choices, it's the one whose design philosophy, communal attitudes, and vision come closest to my idea of what a desktop environment and its project should be.That wasn't always the case. Although my first year of working in GNU/Linux was on KDE, I spent close to eight years as a die-hard GNOME user....
GNOME Proves It Can Listen

Nov 21, 2012 GMT

With one announcement, suddenly the prospects for the free desktop have changed.I'm referring, of course, to Matthias Clasen's announcement that, having dropped fallback mode, GNOME will support a core of extensions that will recreate the GNOME 2 interface.This announcement marks a major reversal of GNOME's policy. For the past two years, the project has officially defended the radical redesign introduced by GNOME 3, making few -- if any -- acknowledgments of users' complaints.In fact, eighteen months ago, influential members of GNOME were arguing against encouraging extensions for GNOME Shell at all. For instance, Allan Day, one of the leading designers of the GNOME 3, wrote in a...
The Problem of Menus

Nov 16, 2012 GMT

Interfaces for traditional computers and mobile devices have become increasingly inventive in the last few years. So far, however, none have solved a basic design challenge: designing an efficient menu.The challenge rarely exists within applications. An application usually has half a dozen or more top level menus, each with less than a dozen items, so a drop-down system is usually good enough.But on the desktop environment, the norm has always been to have a single menu that lists all applications, and often shut-down commands, a list of favorites, and a few other items. To function well, each variation needs to make items quick to find and to distract minimally from whatever else...

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